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Millionaire Sanders Supporters Donate Ice Cream to Presidential Campaign

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 in Burlington, Vt., where he formally announced he will seek the Democratic nomination for president
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 in Burlington, Vt., where he formally announced he will seek the Democratic nomination for president / AP
• May 27, 2015 11:28 am

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The co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s say the ice cream they handed out at Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I., Vt.) presidential kickoff event on Tuesday was fully reported to federal regulators and worth less than the limits on individual donations to federal candidates.

Ben Cohen, one of the co-founders of the Vermont-based company, said he and fellow co-founder Jerry Greenfield paid about $1,050 for the ice cream and staff to hand it out at Sanders’ official kickoff event in Burlington.

"Every cent will be reported [to the Federal Election Commission] as an in-kind contribution," Cohen said on Wednesday.

A spokesman for Ben & Jerry’s had a higher estimate of the costs associated with the ice cream handouts. His "ballpark" guess was $2,000.

That is still below the $2,700 cap on individual contributions to a federal campaign. However, it will reduce the amount of money that Cohen and Greenfield, both multimillionaire Sanders supporters, can contribute to his presidential effort going forward.

Like Sanders, the Ben & Jerry’s co-founders are advocates for extreme reforms to federal campaign finance laws. Sanders has called for restrictions on political spending explicitly designed to disadvantage his political opponents.

Cohen heads a group called People Power Initiatives, which encourages supporters to stamp U.S. currency with political messages pushing for a constitutional amendment to exclude corporate entities from constitutional protections such as the right to free speech.

Such measures have been criticized for allowing the federal government to freely censor any communications by for-profit corporations (including most news media), non-profits, churches, labor unions, and other incorporated entities.

Sanders’ kickoff event caught the eye of the Republican National Committee. The senator "rallies against corporations but has no problem taking Ben & Jerry’s free handouts at kickoff," RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said on Twitter on Wednesday.

The company says it did not provide the ice cream for the event. Cohen and Greenfield bought it from them and provided it for the event, the spokesman said.